Today's stern lesson for not only the United States, but for all who pine after the civility to live in some personal safety with other human beings is ensconced in the New York Times article, "Extremism spreads across Indonesia's penal code," and is summed in a single sentence: " . . .how Aceh went from basic Islamic law to endorsing stoning in a few short years shows how a small, radical minority has successfully pushed its agenda, locally and nationally, by cowing political and religious moderates." (click here=1&th&emc=th) I edited the sentence with the emphasizing italics because every society is subject to bullying by small, radical minorities.
Of course, what defines Voltaire's absurdities and atrocities depend on whether a society, or a segment of it, believes certain behaviors are absurd or atrocious. And beliefs, for their substance and sustenance, depend on either the prejudicial suspension of evidence or suspension of the continued search for it by a society or a segment of it.
Meso-American Aztec culture saw life as recurring in 52-year cycles. And the rebirth of each new cycle required they propitiate Huitzilopochtli, their god with a warlike attribute and disposition, through human sacrifice. Either displease or insufficiently please Huitzilopochtli and they believed the universe surely would collapse. Following placement of the person to be sacrificed on the stone altar, the priest would slice through the victim's abdomen, and then rip from his chest the still beating heart, to hold it aloft before the gazes of the anxiously waiting community.
Just last year, in Afghanistan, a 13-year old theretofore virginal girl was gang-raped. Her rapists went unmolested under the Shariah law as interpreted by the Taliban. On the other hand, the rape victim was not so fortunate. No longer "pure," she was taken by the village elders to a pit, where she was buried to her neck, and then stoned to death.
Absurd? Atrocious? Not at all to either the Aztecs or the Afghan villagers. Nor is Christian history bereft of similar beliefs and their repercussions. In our own Salem, although the evidence now suggests the number has been grossly exaggerated, in 1692, women were burned at the stake for what the community held was heretical witchcraft. That was just a little more than 100 years after the Spanish Inquisition where, operating under the authority of the pope, Muslim Moors had their bones pulled from their sockets on the rack, and then were disemboweled alive, all to save their souls for Christ. Much as did the Spanish priests to the native peoples they encountered in what is now Mexico. And let us never forget Jonestown, and the more than 900 men, women and children who drank the cyanide laced Kool-Aid.
However "drinking the Kool-Aid" has now become a synonym for naÃ¯vely falling gullible to beliefs that on closer examination should engage social derision, huge swaths of Americans continue to down the elixir in great gulps. Indeed, we were sternly reprimanded by Christian fundamentalist leaders that Hurricane Katrina was God's wrath for much of this nation's acceptance of gay men and women, and their "lifestyle." Just last November, of all places and political leanings, California passed an amendment to the state constitution discriminating against a social minority, delimiting their civil rights, by making it not legal for same-sex couples to publicly proclaim their love for each other through marriage. And in this coming November's state election in Maine the same issue is on the ballot, with those opposed manifesting rather close numerical equivalency to those favoring equal rights for all citizens.
Yet on what evidence do those opposed base their opposition? There exists no "evidence." Rather, the entirety of their professed opposition inheres in wholly cherry-picked religious suppositions. They claim that via specific biblical passages (ie., Genesis 2:24-25; Genesis 19; Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; Hebrews 13:4; Jude 7, for example) they know that it is an abomination to God: what same-sex couples do sexually with each other. In other words, they know absolutely how God feels on the issue.
It matters not at all to such folk that each passage cited requires a predisposed interpretation that lacks universal agreement as to what it in fact means, or it requires extraordinary hypocrisy in the cherry-picking business of which parts of the Bible one does and does not believe.
I wonder how can they, or anyone, be so certain? Especially given that the Apostle Paul opined rhetorically, "who can know the mind of God?" And Augustine of Hippo -- St. Augustine -- later admonished Christians to "not take the Bible literally." Catholic transubstantiation doctrine asserts that the communion wine and wafer actually become the blood and flesh of Jesus; not represent the blood and flesh, but actually are His blood and flesh. Do Catholics truly believe that? Do any other Christians?
And even if they do not, do they, however, take every other biblical passage literally? The story of Noah and the arc: did the protagonist shepherd onto the craft North American bison and Canadian moose, and the Komodo dragons from Indonesia, and the alpaca that dwells amidst the highest altitudes of the Andes, and the anaconda from the Amazon . . .? Genesis 6:19-20 is clear: ". . . every living thing. Of fowls, . . . of every creepy thing . . .." The Red Sea averages 170 miles in width. According to Exodus 13:17-15:21, Moses led the fleeing Israelites across its dry bed, after God had caused its waters to part. Its average depth is 1,600 feet. When do you suppose the last time was that the literal believers who are so certain about how God regards gay sexual activities went on a 100+ mile walk anywhere, let alone one with such perilous up- and down-slopes? Take every passage literally? As literally as those they hyperventilate over when it comes same-sex relationships?
And here's the nail that affixes these phonies, hoisted on their own hate-driven, sleazy petards, the nail none of the rest of us should ever overlook: Jesus speaks in only five of the Bible's books. He is the son of God. He sits on the right hand of God. He is one-third of the Holy Trinity: father, son, and holy ghost. Yet in not a one of those five books does He say anything about gays. In the Parable of the good Samaritan, He does most strongly teach that bigotry has no place in His kingdom. Furthermore, when it comes to "following him," he instructs that the only way one can do that is to first sell all one has, then to give all the proceeds of the sale to the poor. In the fury to abide God's will, how is it, why is it, that those who pretend to be so concerned on the one hand voluntarily refuse to pay even lip service to the others?
No! None of those who would ostracize those who Jesus asserts are their brothers and sisters bear even a pale hint of a genuine Christian. Rather, what they are, are zealots, small, frightened little zealots to be sure, but zealots just the same; exactly of the same mind set as the Shiriah-enforcing Taliban in Afghanistan who stoned a young rape victim or the Aztecs who ripped a yet-beating heart from the chest of the human sacrifice. The only difference is that today, here in this country, the most brutal of the products of zealous-driven fear is withheld from them.
Beliefs; a potent plural noun where not a speck of solid evidence is a necessary prerequisite for its potency. While we all are free to believe what we wish, our believing that something is true and of God does not make it either true or of God. We'd all be well served by never forgetting that and by never permitting those who would demand we accompany them en route to the atrocity to cow us into going along.
-- Ed Tubbs